In courtrooms across the United States, women still find themselves judged on the basis of factors that trial researchers and feminists consider antiquated and prejudicial. Bias and stereotyped images, they say, influence jury selection, the treatment of female witnesses, and attitudes toward women attorneys and judges.
The New York Task Force on Women in the Courts, in a 1986 report, termed sex bias ``pervasive.'' It said the ``most insidious manifestation of gender bias against women ... is the tendency of some judges and attorneys to accord less credibility to the claims and testimony of women because they are women.''
The findings were nearly identical to those of the New Jersey Task Force on Women in the Courts in 1983. Similar panels in more than a dozen other states are investigating the issue. And it was examined earlier this month at the American Trial Lawyers Association convention in San Francisco by the Women Trial Lawyers Caucus.
The various studies have turned up persistent stereotypes about women jurors, including the belief that:
Female jurors are more likely than male jurors to acquit in criminal cases, except when the crime involves a child or threat to family.
In civil cases, female jurors are more likely than males to vote in favor of the plaintiff, but vote for smaller awards than men do.
Female jurors are less likely to favor female defendants or female plaintiffs.
And a review of legal literature written as late as the 1970s about women jurors uncovers these comments:
``Where the client is a woman ... avoid other women upon the jury so far as possible. There is some truth to the ancient adage: `Woman is man's best friend and her own worst enemy.'''